In 2017, Paolo Cognetti returned to Nepal, not to conquer the mountains but to journey through the high valleys of the Dolpo with a copy of Peter Matthiessen's The Snow Leopard in hand. Drawing on memories of his childhood in the Alps, Cognetti explored the roots of life in the mountains, truly getting to know the communities and the nature that forged this resilient, almost mythical region.
... an exquisite book by a writer of rare wisdom and grace. Its rhythms move at the pace of the walking step and the flowing stream ... [Cognetti's] prose is spare and precise, and in Stash Luczkiw’s English version frequently attains great beauty. As he moves over mountain passes, high by American standards yet miles below the tallest Himalayan peaks, he writes candidly about the altitude sickness that has plagued him all his life ... The Snow Leopard is one of the great works of modern literature, a masterpiece of travel writing and life in the mountains. To use it as the conceit for one’s own story could go terribly wrong. Yet Mr. Cognetti displays a winning combination of reflection and good nature as he references the earlier book ... Mr. Cognetti takes care not to romanticize the poverty of others while also absorbing the healing effect that his pilgrimage affords ... For all its brevity, Without Ever Reaching the Summit captures something essential about the metronome produced by a boot on a trail ... In one sense a book like this makes for a bittersweet companion in a time of pandemic. Those who pine for the mountains will read it with longing as they await the day when they can once more breathe the high elemental air. But in another sense it is just the volume for this simplifying moment. The modern life we are leaving behind is a bit like the cities that so confound the author: congested, hectic, due for a rinse. Our new, slower pace of living—for those lucky in health and secure in livelihood—is like the crisp, clear mountains. Perhaps going forward there will be less traffic, distraction and greed. Like pilgrims, we may learn to stop and listen, enjoy the world around us, and appreciate our time together ... Mr. Cognetti reminds readers in need of healing that common miracles abound, even as the world falls to ruin.
Cognetti presents a delightful travelogue of his transformative visit to the Dolpo region of Nepal ... Luczkiw’s lush translation captures Cognetti’s impassioned descriptions of the mountains, fauna, and the many gracious people he encountered along the trail. Armchair travelers with a spiritual bent will be riveted by Cognetti’s reflections.
The emerging parallels in their stories unfortunately expose Cognetti’s weakness as a storyteller. The author is a fine travel writer, investing his narrative with vivid insights into the present-day Nepalese region and sharing the often grueling physical effects of traversing through these high altitudes. Yet his personal context for the undertaking is vague. Matthiessen’s physical and spiritual journey is deeply enhanced by the intimate and emotional experiences of his past; his spiritually enlightening memoir is often moving. Readers unfamiliar with Cognetti’s previous work may come away from this slender narrative feeling they know little about him ... An informative but emotionally remote journey through modern-day Nepal.